I watched the police gradually become more aggressive and determined to remove the group, although it wasn’t obstructing the fracking itself. The protest happened at the same time as the ‘Reclaim the Power’ anti-fracking camp and the fracking company had already decided to suspend operations for the duration of the camp. The sit-in group was composed largely of Disabled People Against the Cuts, so some were elderly and some were locked onto another’s wheelchair. One elderly man had to leave when he no longer had the strength to lie on the concrete. He left in tears. “I’m sorry.” he kept saying, as everyone cheered and applauded him.
As the police formed lines to corral the wider protest group, two or three people pushed back. From my vantage point on the chair I saw four large riot vans behind the gate. The police put the visors down on their helmets. Along the road earlier I had counted another twenty or so police cars and riot vans.
The police told the press to leave as they could not guarantee their safety. I remember the Guardian photographer saying, a little disparagingly, that he had covered wars and would take his chances. The police formed a thick line around the group and moved to block the view of all legal observers and press. So I never saw what happened next.
Amazingly, that wonderful photographer managed to get between someone’s legs on the other side and with a zoom lens, and caught the moment that the police used a torture technique on Theo. Pressing a thumb deep into the nerve on his neck, caused him to howl in pain and release his arm from those next to him. It was only the following day on seeing the photo that I understood.
“That’s my son! That’s my son!” shouted Caroline in distress. She turned as Theo was being taken away and more police came and took Sheila from the other side.
Sheila hadn’t intended to get arrested that day. One by one they were picked off and taken to the waiting police vans. I wrote down what happened, their names, the badge numbers of the police, and called the activist legal team. It was the first time I’d seen people get arrested. And the first time I’d heard of an MP getting arrested to protect the environment.
“I may not be in her constituency,” I thought, “but she’s definitely my MP.” I knew they would get bailed, but it felt like they were disappearing into a black hole. There were over thirty people arrested for anti-fracking actions that day, and over a hundred and thirty in the three months. That evening and the next, there was huge cheering and relief as our bailed friends returned to the Reclaim the Power camp.
The next time I saw Sheila was at a protest performance against oil sponsorship of the arts, then on the day of her and Caroline’s trial. I sat in the court seats with a dozen others, an observer again, to give smiles of encouragement, and my thanks. When most people go to court there is only one family member with them and it can make a big difference to know that people support what they did.
Travelling to Sheila’s house there’s another movie poster on a bus of a warrior man. Another advert on a van. “Saving the world from mediocre coffee”. It’s almost physically painful.
“Why am I doing this to myself?” I think. But there is a truth to beware of. Once you start to see, it is hard to stop.